I was asked a wonderful question by one of the participants in the 12 Steps in 1 Hour Sessions Workshop.
Edith asked: Is there an amount of abstinence time required before you start to sponsor?
Another way to ask that question is: “when can or should I start sponsoring?”
This is a question that comes up very often. So, I thought I would post on the blog my response.
I do not believe that there are any hard or fast rules about the amount of abstinence time required before one can start to sponsor. It depends on one’s particular fellowship.
The 12 step program of recovery is a peer led fellowship. A sponsor is a more experienced member of program who mentors the newcomer and shares her experience, strength and hope.
This is a program of attraction rather than promotion. A sponsor is someone who has what you want so you are willing to do what they do.
Ideally, a sponsor is someone who is “carrying the message to those who still suffer and practicing these principles in all her affairs.” In practice, this can mean many different things.
In OA, a sponsor is often someone who has at least taken the first 3 Steps and is committed to abstinence. For many newcomers in OA, a sponsor is someone who helps you with your food plan and keeps you accountable for being physically abstinent and practicing the tools on a daily basis.
There are also different types of sponsors. Some people have step sponsors, as well as food sponsors.
In other fellowships, a sponsor is someone who has at least taken the first 5 Steps and listened to someone else do the same, and is committed to staying at least 1 step ahead of one’s sponsee.
In order to carry the message, one has to know what the message is.
I started out in OA-90, which requires 90 days of abstinence before speaking or sponsoring someone.
So, after 90 days of abstinence, I started sponsoring, without having even gone through the steps. In fact, I was in program for 3 years before I actually took all 12 Steps!
I now believe that the best way to recover from addiction is to get to Step Twelve as quickly as possible, and experience the life-changing spiritual awakening that occurs as the direct result of taking the Steps.
We don’t need to be perfect and know everything before sponsoring another person. We only need to start where we are and grow from there. Practice makes progress, not perfection. The best way to learn something is to teach it!
I once heard a wonderful line: “We are not supposed to be accountable to our sponsors. We are supposed to be accountable to our sponsees.”
To me, this means, that if you know that other people are relying on you, you are more likely to stay abstinent.
But, what works for one person may not necessarily work for someone else. We all have our own journey and unique path to follow.
In the early days of program, the A.A. pioneers worked the Steps right away and then passed it on right away.
According the Bill’s Story in the AA Big Book, Bill W. worked his entire program with Ebby T. in less than 7 days and immediately started working with other alcoholics.
xvi: 2 …the broker had worked hard with many alcoholics on the theory that only an alcoholic could help an alcoholic, but he had succeeded only in keeping sober himself. He suddenly realized that in order to save himself he must carry his message to another alcoholic.
Ebby T. was only 60 days sober when he carried the message to Bill W. and Dr. Bob was only 18 days sober when he and Bill W. carried the message to A.A. number 3, Bill Duff.
These men were on a mission. They did not wait around to be asked by someone to sponsor them. They went out searching for other alcoholics to work with.
xvii: 1 Hence the two men (Bill W. and Dr. Bob) set to work almost frantically upon alcoholics arriving in the ward of the Akron City Hospital.
Bill and Lois abandoned their lives with enthusiasm at the idea of working with other alcoholics.
15:1 My wife and I abandoned ourselves with enthusiasm to the idea of helping other alcoholics to a solution of their problems….I soon found that when all other measures failed, work with another alcoholic (addict) would save the day. (AA Big Book)
Sponsorship is more of an art, rather than a science. As we do it more, we develop our own style. We discover, over time and with practice, what works best for ourselves, and for the other person we are sponsoring.
Furthermore, sponsorship it is a symbiotic and mutually reciprocal relationship: by giving to others, we receive back, just as much, if not more from the other person.
The AA Big Book says:
Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail. This is our twelfth suggestion: Carry this message to other alcoholics!…. (89:1)
Life will take on new meaning. To watch people recover, to see them help others, to watch loneliness vanish, to see a fellowship grow up about you, to have a host of friends – this is an experience you must not miss. We know you will not want to miss it. Frequent contact with newcomers and with each other is the bright spot of our lives. (89: 2)
Sponsorship is a natural outcome of living in Steps 10, 11 and 12. The daily discipline of prayer, meditation, inventory and surrendering to a food plan polishes one’s soul and reveals our inner light.
We have an opportunity to be of service and to be truly useful to other people because now we have something to offer. “Our job now is to be at the place where we may be of maximum helpfulness to others.”
The AA Big Book further advises us:
“It is not the matter of giving that is in question, but when and how to give. That makes the difference between failure and success. The minute we put our work on a social service plane, the alcoholic commences to rely upon our assistance rather than upon God.”
Finally, I wanted to share this wonderful story, which will hopefully inspire everyone to appreciate the special gift of sponsoring another person “who is sick and suffering.”
This story is from a wonderful book by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham (1992) “The Spirituality of Imperfection.”
There is a Sufi story:
Past the seeker as he prayed, came the crippled and the beggar and the beaten. And seeing them, the holy one went down into deep prayer and cried, “Great God, how is it that a loving Creator can see such things and yet do nothing about them?”
And, out of the long silence, God said, “I did do something about them. I made you.”
As addicts, we are blessed with a unique and special opportunity. God, in His wisdom, created us with this specific challenge so that we can helpful to others who share our disease.
Sponsorship is not only a service. It is truly a gift and a privilege.
We have so much to be grateful for.
I hope this information is helpful!
In love and service,
Quotes are taken from The Original Manuscript.